Mukherjee briefs party MPs, allies on fuel price hike

New Delhi, March 3 (IANS) Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee Wednesday indicated there would no rollback of hike in central taxes on petrol and diesel and briefed the Congress MPs and United Progressive Alliance (UPA) partners on the reasons behind the measure.

Pranab Mukherjee, who met the party MPs and Trinamool Congress and DMK leaders separately, spoke of the steps taken to enhance spending on the social sector.

The meetings came against the backdrop of demands from UPA contituents and Congress allies for withdrawal of the hike in the prices of petrol and diesel.

The Trinamool and the DMK – partners of the Congress in the ruling UPA – have opposed the fuel price hike. Three other parties that support the government from outside — the Samajawadi Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Bahujan Samaj Party — also have criticised the government move.

Trinamool Congress leader Sudip Bandhopadhyay met Mukherjee along with leaders from the DMK, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Muslim League Kerala state committee, and later said the minister explained to them the reason for hike in taxes of petrol and diesel.

‘There was no indication of a roll-back,’ Bandhopadhyay told IANS.

Asked about his party’s response, Bandhopadhyay said the Trinamool Congress will ultimately abide by the word of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the issue.

Mukherjee also told the allies about the fewer hikes made by the UPA government compared to those made by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance government.

In his meeting with the Congress MPs, Mukherjee spoke of the need for the government to mop up resources for its rural and social sector welfare programmes.

Congress sources said Mukherjee told the MPs that taxes on petrol and diesel had last year been reduced to offset steep increase in international prices of crude oil, and the announcement in the budget had restored the taxes to the original level.

The minister said that he had sought to increase purchasing power of the middle classes through income tax concessions in the budget. He said the government needed resources to improve social infrastructure.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi will address a meeting of party MPs Thursday.

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